You know nothing about the “wild” unless you’ve experienced the mysteriousness of Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh, where fresh air, sounds of the jungle and feline-sightings await
After three hours of tossing and bouncing on the bumpy road from Kanha to Pench, my parents and I are about to reach the suppositional cradle of the underwear-clad, little Mowgli. As we drive closer to Sarrahiri, a hamlet near Karmajhiri gate of Pench National Park, we are surrounded by grassy lands with organised patches of plantation on both sides.
The bright green landscape, peppered with tile-roofed mud homes, seems like a heavenly rural scene straight out of a Bollywood film!
We heave a sigh of relief after checking into our tree lodge perched on top of a Mahua tree. Next few minutes are spent relaxing in the balcony that offers uninterrupted views of the deciduous forest; I am delighted to spot some brightly-coloured birds and butterflies while sipping on warm ginger tea. I feel like I am in nature’s paradise where magic is about to unfold.
Pench Tree Lodge by Pugdundee Safaris offers spacious, luxurious tree houses that give you those jungle feels. Yes, these tree houses come with a private balcony where you can relax/read a book to spend some quiet time amid nature.
FEELING FULLY ALIVE
Having grown up reading Jungle Book, I am excited to traverse the national park, bringing alive every page and character – be it Bagheera, Balloo or Shere Khan.
While hoping to spot the tiger in the wild, we are told it’s best not to solely focus on the wild cat and miss out on the little pleasures the jungle offers. So, we decide to enjoy the open-jeep safari by breathing in the fresh air, soaking up the sunshine, smelling the dampness of the earth, hearing the sounds of the jungle, and know a little more about its diverse flora and fauna. Driving on the dirt trail with tall teak trees on both sides, I feel fully alive.
Unlike other forests like Kanha and Bandhavgarh, Pench is a lot more drier and sparse, allowing you to take a sneak peek into the intimate moments of the resident birds and animals. At the same time, it is refreshingly diverse in its topography – undulating scrublands, bamboo patches, stunningly large water bodies, hills and and jungle valleys form a beautiful landscape.
With more than 200 species of birds including wagtails, horn bills, kingfisher, barbets and minivets and rich fauna, the jungle is a treat for anyone with a deep interest in photography. Watch out for the Indian Ghost tree – a beautiful tree with a white trunk and peeling paper-thin skin. It eerily stands out from the rest, and yes, it does glow in the dark!
WHERE MAN IS AN OUTSIDER
We see a few langurs jumping from one tree to the other while some are simply relaxing like a nawab, a gaur (Indian bison) is quenching its thirst at a nearby water body, sambars and chitals are crossing the trail to assemble with their clan that seems to be making alert calls fiercely, a golden jackal is feeding on fresh deer flesh, and peacocks are moving around gracefully.
While you are likely to spot a tiger with her cubs by taking cues from deer and langur calls, leopards and sloth bears are the elusive creatures of the jungle. You truly got to be lucky to spot them!
Pic: Chinmay Deshpande
The closest we get to Collarwali (the celebrity tigress of the forest) are fresh pugmarks, but what exhilerates us is the 15-minute intense jeep chase where our naturalist and the forest guide manage to create a tale of mystery and suspense. Though we don’t get to witness every wild beast in person, many do come alive in our imagination as we engross ourselves in our naturalists intriguing stories. It’s a different world altogether!
TIP: As sightings are unpredictable and not always consistent, make sure to take two or more safaris – both morning and evening – to increase the chances of leopard and tiger sightings.
DID YOU KNOW?
The character “Mowgli” originated in Pench National Park, although his creator Rudyard Kipling never actually visited the park himself. It is believed that a 19th century British official wrote about a wolf-boy he found in the jungle. Kipling read this journal, which inspired him to write The Jungle Book.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Nagpur, and drive for about two hours or more to your hotel or take a train to Nagpur railway station (94 km) followed by a two-and-a-half hour drive. Since the roads here aren’t in great condition, roadtrips aren’t recommended unless you’re over enthusiastic.
WHEN TO GO
The best months to visit are between November and June. Visit during winter to enjoy pleasant days, but cold mornings and evenings. Summers are sweltering hot, but chances of spotting a tiger is higher than the rest of the year. Plus, this is the time when chitals shed their antlers.
WHERE TO STAY
Put up in one of the tree lodges at Pench Tree Lodge (by Pugdundee Safaris) for an unforgettable, close-to-nature experience. Tariff starts at Rs 18,000 per night. They also offer all-inclusive packages cover all meals as well as safaris and some interesting experiences like nature walk, visit to the organic vegetable garden, cycling to a nearby village etc